With Just Dance 2023 Edition releasing later in at the end of November, we had the opportunity to attend a panel discussions with the Ubisoft Paris Just Dance team about some of the behind the scenes process for Just Dance.
We are joined by several key members of the Just Dance team:
Claire Bourgne – Executive Producer
Matthew Tomkinson – Creative Director
Helene Jeannin – Creative Content Manager
Benjamin Jouffret – Lead Costume Designer and Character Lead
Rosalie Fouchet – Main Makeup Artist
Estelle Manas – Choreographer Director
Celine Rotsen-Kitsais – Choreographer
Jessy Osseux – Dancer
Jerome Jomie – Senior Video Artist
Dancing is In My DNA
Matthew Tomkinson mentions Just Dance 2023 Edition will include the bright and colourful environments and characters that we are familiar with the Just Dance series, but this new entry will have a more mature and modern tone which players can see through the characters, environments as well as the UI.
The new revamped UI will make players gravitate towards the content as well as having a better recommendation system that pushes the best songs and experience catered to each of the user’s preferences.
A long requested feature that players have asked for will be making its debut in Just Dance 2023 edition, being the Online Multiplayer Groups. Players will now be able to create groups with up to six people and choose the songs that you want to play, creating an experience very similar to playing the game in your living room.
Players are also able to represent themselves with the newly developed avatars and dance cards where players are able to customise the borders and display badges on said card.
To unlock all the contents, Just Dance 2023 will be revamping the progression system, where every time you play, you’ll earn more XP and you’ll progress through a levelling system that unlocks different rewards through the game.
Claire Bourgne mentions Just Dance 2023 Edition will be having a new subscription service called Just Dance+ which will be available at release with 150 songs and will continue to evolve regularly.
Creating A Dance Track
The list of songs that get added into the game are decided through various of factors, the team gathers input from the production team, music labels and even the players themselves. Matthew mentions that the process of dwindling down the final list is by looking at different aspects like how danceable the song is or how unique the concept of the song is.
Helene Jeannin mentions that when collaborating with artists, they would sometimes also have a part in the song that gets added into the game.
One example being with when the team worked with Billie Eillish, she had played a part being the artistic director where she was in charge of the creative vision for the map, the background as well as the outfit for the avatar.
She also mentions how important it is to include local and regional artists into the game because “Music is Culture” and how the team made sure to include local hits in the game each year that are available to certain territories that are exclusive.
When creating original songs for Just Dance, Helena talks about the creative process where the team creates a brief of what the song wants to be, and they would then have their key coaches be the singers and dancers to the song.
Conceptualising the Maps
Once a song has been selected, the map creation process comes next. The team would first organise a brainstorm session where they gather the whole creative team together. They would first listen to the song and watch the music video, they would then have a brief session where they write down their ideas and present them to the rest of the team.
Franck the content director mentions that the team would then create a storyboard where they work with the art director to draft the ideas for each scene to create something consistent.
With the process of Environment creation, Franck talks about a mood board that the team creates as a starting point for the graphic design. The team would gather image references and use them for the concept art of the map, as well as asset creation which is then turned into 3D.
First time in the series, Just Dance 2023 edition will have a story playlist where players can follow through a story on different maps as they play. Franck wanted to make a link between reality and the Just Dance universe.
One of the examples of the story map features the main character Sara who lives in reality where she wants to dance but is too shy to do so, she then gets invited into the Just Dance universe by a character who goes by Wanderlust.
Breathing New Life To Characters
The characters in Just Dance are just as important as the maps themselves. Benjamin Jouffret mentions that the team gets inspiration from creating the costumes for characters in Just Dance with the help of a mood board.
The team would look up references from the fashion world, movies, video clips and even live shows to be put on the mood board. Rosalie also mentions the same goes with both makeup and hairstyle designs since this is a huge part of the design process.
Since Just Dance is a game that comes out every year, the team pays close attention to pop culture trends since that affects a large audience. Benjamin also mentions that the goal of the characters in Just Dance isn’t to represent the artist in the map but instead to pay homage to them, creating a new character that lives in the Just Dance universe.
An interesting thing to note is that the costumes that the characters wear in the game are actually made in real life and not in 3D. Benjamin talks about how the team uses a specific green screen background technique that allows them to track the faces and emotions of the real dancers and performers for authenticity and realism.
Just Dance To The Beat
Estelle Manas talks about while there’s only one choreographer per map, but they would also work with several choreographers who have different styles. In some certain scenarios where a map requires a specific dance style, they would then have a guest choreographer to work on it instead.
Estelle mentions that they would work with the same dancers every year due to their passion as well as being multidisciplinary dancers. But she also says that they would have castings every year to discover new talents or when they have specific needs. One of the example that they gave was with Encanto, where they tried to look for someone that looks similar to the character to stay faithful.
When applying for his role as a dancer, Jessy Osseux said that he had to send in videos of his choreography to be selected. He also had to head over to the dance room to show another choreo made especially for Just Dance as well as freestyling.
A single map in Just Dance may have several difficulties, Estelle mentions that it’s important to include all players, whether it’s newcomers or players who like to have a challenge. The structure of the choreography is important, when a map has a lot of loops and repetition, it’s easier for players to memorise and match the movement. Whereas the more a map has unique parts, the more difficult the map would be.
Lights, Camera, Post-Production
Jerome Jomie mentions that the first step when it comes to creating a map is called the animatic. It’s a crucial piece because it defines all the good processes of the creation. When creating an animatic, the team brings in all the elements created by the 3D artists to build up the environment.
Once the 3D assets are brought over, the team would then create a basic animation with the camera along with adding in the very first version of the rehearsals which acts as a reference for the entire team.
Jerome mentions that the animation process starts off with the lighting element which is animated directly with the music. He also said that the team creates the animation all by hand after listening to the music over and over again instead of having an automated program doing it for them.
When talking about the points and scoring system in Just Dance, Matthew mentions how it’s done by a specific editor that they call a dance editor. The dance editor would break down the song into several parts of moves that repeat.
The team would then decide on the beginning and the end of a move to give them a score feedback, the process would be repeated so that the team wouldn’t have to redo the scoring for each part for the whole song.
Just Dance 2023 Edition will be released on 22nd November 2022 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S.
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